Talking past one another

Will the coalition-PTI talks go anywhere?

At one level, the talks between the coalition government and the PTI are welcome, whether they result in any outcome or not, because the very fact that they are happening means that the PTI is finally talking to the other political parties. But at the same time, it does not seem that those talks are going to have the desired outcome of an agreement on a date for fresh elections. One reason is that PTI chief Imran Khan has said that the government must dissolve the National Assembly at once. PTI leader and one of its negotiators Fawad Chaudhry has said that if the talks fail, the PTI could go for another movement. The talks are being held because the Supreme Court wants them, having expressed readiness to be flexible about the June 14 date it has set, if the parties agree to one date. Despite talk about refusal to talk with the PTI because of Mr Khan’s penchant for U-turns, the coalition, except for the JUI(F), is talking, perhaps more to avoid a contempt charge against the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The PTI, which has built its entire political narrative on confrontation and calling opponents names, has also found itself wishing for the talks to fail.

Perhaps an indication of how behind-the-scenes players feel is the raid on PTI President Ch Pervaiz Elahi’s house. True, there are charges against him, but they existed before the talks started, and thus the timing cannot be considered coincidental. In fact, Mr Fawad Chaudhry has mentioned it as an example of the government’s bad faith. The timing of the raid is the clearest indication that someone is afraid that there might be an agreement. The coalition may well fear that early elections will mean a PTI victory, and the PTI might be worried about elections going beyond the Chief Justice’s retirement in September, but any agreement would be between political parties. Any failure to reach an agreement would provide ammunition to those forces that argue that politicians cannot be trusted to keep the national interest in view.

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At this point, the negotiators must keep their calm and head towards an agreement, not only amongst themselves, but which they must make their principals agree. These politicians are experienced negotiators, and whether they identify contentious issues first, and achieve agreement on them first, or use the opposite method, of identifying and agreeing on easy issues first; whether they choose to deal with modalities first or later, there must be an emphasis on success, not on blaming the other side for failure, as it now appears.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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